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With the quater-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup beginning tomorrow, much of the world is immersed in everything football. Football is more commonly referred to as soccer in the United States. However, no matter what the sport is called or where one might play it, you can be guaranteed that there are fans, players, and professionals nearby who care about this sport with great enthusiasm and passion. Gallagher_Marybeth_El Salvador_1One such Maryknoll Lay Missioner, Marybeth, brought her love of soccer along to play a part in her mission work. Here is a bit of her journey while working with deaf children and attending language school in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

March 7, 1997:

“After class I played soccer with the kids. Once again, it was a total learning experience. I am so used to communicating on the soccer court with my voice! ‘Pass it, cross it, shoot, get back on defense, I will cover him, you cover her, etc. etc.’ It was like nothing I had experienced before. The hardest part was that I couldn’t encourage my teammates or give them support. Smiles and pats on the back were the best I could do. But, I did play decently, and they invited me back. I think I will go next Tuesday, and even try to play a bit with the young girls who are interested. The boys are a bit rough, and I can hold my own, but it’s a bit overwhelming for the girls. I’m getting really attached to the kids here in Bolivia!!! Now I want to learn sign language!! I need another lifetime!!!

March 14, 1997:

“I went back out to Vinto on Tuesday, to visit the children at the deaf center. This time I went after classes, and organized a soccer game with just the girls. The boys kept coming on to the court and making fun of the girls, but we persisted and held our own! At first I wanted to teach them a few skills like kicking and trapping the ball, but they quickly became disinterested and start walking away. So I figured it was best to just play a game and get them to enjoy the sport. I took 4 little ones on my team and the 5 older girls were on the other team. It was a blast!! They knew the basic rules of the game because they’d watched the boys play for so many years, but they had no skills whatsoever! I just kept encouraging them and tried to sneak in a bit of instruction here and there. We played for an hour and a half, and they would have kept on had it not been time for supper. I promised them I’d come every Tuesday as long as they were interested in playing! I learn a bit more sign language every time I visit, and I just love it!”

May 5, 1997:

“My big news is that I had great success with the athletic director of a nearby school, and I think my girl’s team from the deaf center in Vinto is going to play a friendly game of soccer against the girls here in Cochabamba this Sunday. I have gotten such positive feedback from all the girls and the coaches! We are all really excited! I also spoke with teachers at two other schools and I might be able to arrange a meeting with all of us and get 4 or 5 schools involved. I can’t believe I actually have the opportunity to promote women’s soccer here in Bolivia! What a dream come true!!! I’ll be sure to keep you posted on all the developments as they occur!!! Yippie!!!”

May 20, 1997:

“In the soccer department, we had great success with our first girl’s soccer games!!! Hooray!! Chris, the director of the Center for the Deaf, drove the bus in from Vinto with about 35 girls!! It was marvellous! There were 10 girls from the Capilla School in Cochabamba, so what we did was split them up into groups of 5, and play a round-robin type tournament. As soon as one team scored a goal, the other team came off and a new team ran on. We were playing fubito, 5 against 5 on a small, concrete court with goals. We began at 4:00 pm and at 6:00 pm were still going strong! I know all the girls had a great time, and learned a lot by watching the others. […] What I loved about this whole thing was the way it empowered the girls! The director of the Capilla School said he’s been trying for years to get the girls playing soccer but they feel like it’s a boy’s game and they are not good enough to play. When they do try, the boys make fun of them and banish them from the court. So, this was a giant leap for Women’s Soccer! […] The whole idea is simply to promote women’s soccer, and women’s rights in general!”

Not long after this last entry Marybeth’s time at school in Cochabamba, Bolivia came to an end, as did her time playing soccer with the children from the Center for the Deaf. Once she arrived at her mission assignment in El Salvador, she continued to include soccer as a way to reach out. WomensSoccerTeam_Zacamil_LRWherever Marybeth went she brought soccer along with her and shared it with the community.


“I was teased the other day by a friend who said, ‘So MB, do you actually do any WORK down here [El Salvador], or just play soccer?’ But I have observed that through sports their young minds and hearts are opening, trust and self-esteem is building and teamwork is being put into practice. And not just with the girls, but with their entire families! Attitudes are changing and stereotypes are being broken down little by little.”


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